Is the COVID Slump in Church Growth “Real”?

In a previous post I discussed how, according to reported baptisms, 2020 was a particularly low Church growth year, presumably due to COVID. 

Thankfully, the 2021 General Social Survey data recently dropped, so we can look at whether the COVID slump is “real,” in terms of people identifying as Latter-day Saints, or whether it’s just an artifact of the weirdness of a COVID year. 

The GSS is the standard survey used for measuring religious identification on a year-by-year basis in the US. It is not as big as the Pew surveys, but it has the advantage of being taken on a more or less yearly basis. 

In the year 2021, the GSS shows that .9% of people in the US self-identify as Latter-day Saint. While this is a decline from the previous year measured (1.2% in 2018), the exact number bounces around a little at about 1% each year, so for all intents and purposes it appears that the percentage of people in the US who identify as Latter-day Saint has been flat for about a decade (the chart below smooths the trend with a 4-year moving average; as always, the code is on my Github page).

Now, the GSS is a blunt tool; it is possible that COVID will have longer term effects on the Church’s vitality in the US that we cannot pick up yet. With a larger sample size we could get more precise and possibly detect a real COVID effect on Church size and growth, but as far as we can tell in terms of self-identification, it is business as usual in the year 2021. The things associated with COVID such as remote church and the political divisiveness over vaccines and protocols don’t appear to have had a big enough effect to discernibly change the number of people willing to self-identify as Latter-day Saints on a survey. 

 

 

4 comments for “Is the COVID Slump in Church Growth “Real”?

  1. I vaguely recall reading a paper that parenthetically addressed a spike on percent LDS in the GSS a while ago; I believe that may at least in part be an issue with the fact that it was a geographic cluster sample, where they randomly select certain areas of the US to poll, and in one of the years they happened to select a heavy LDS area in Utah; geographic cluster sampling can be give skewed results when you have very geographically isolated demographics. I thought that was only a year though, so it wouldn’t explain the whole decade. Also worth mentioning that the numbers only go up to 3%, so because of the limited range of the Y-axis that variation looks huge.

  2. I don’t see what the range of the Y axis has to do with anything. The spike Jonathan notes is 2x-3x the usual level for 8-ish sample years. Small numbers of LDS respondents and the geographic cluster sampling you noted seem like more likely explanations if there isn’t something “real” going on.

  3. “The things associated with COVID such as remote church and the political divisiveness over vaccines and protocols don’t appear to have had a big enough effect to discernibly change the number of people willing to self-identify as Latter-day Saints on a survey.”

    Stephen, eat these words. Many people who self-identify as Latter-Day Saints are inactive and more are moving to inactivity. Some return to activity, some turn to despise the institution, some never return. The rate of inactivity and exodus from the institution is a consequence of its mismanaged administration and unrighteous dominion. And because it takes more effort (costs more money and time) to reactivate than it does to baptize anew, we leave it alone. THIS IS TRIAGE. This is OUR triage. These are members of families, not numbers who self-identify with an institution. Leadership is responsible and negligent for leaving the wounded and dead in our field: the stink from rotting corpses and screams of agony from the wounded seem to fall on deaf ears and blind eyes for those who think “all is well in Zion.”

    I communicate with LDS family in Hawaii, California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Wasington, and Nevada–the heartland of American Zion. We notice empty pews from Covid, and empty pews from partisan politics, and empty pews from unrighteous dominion.

    None of these data are valuable if we cannot identify and articulate issues. By the time we are able to properly interpret these data, the damage is already done–it’s become a matter of triage.

    The pundit who says “All is well in Zion” in the face of such data, is a dangerous adversary to the Church; by serving the institution instead of the congregation, he invites its downfall, rather than its preservation.

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